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Palty or Parliamentary?

A "parliamentary" train service is one that's run on a railway to meet minimum legal requirements.

The term originates from a requirement on all companies to provide at least one train a day at rate of an old penny a mile calling at all stations, so that rail transport would be available to all. Some companies embraced the requirement and provided and provided plentiful, good cheap and popular services. Others did the minimum they had to - often running the train at an awkward time of day, making sure that it failed to connect at junctions, and so on... their purpose being to encourage travellers to use other, more expensive services.

These days, the term's often used to describe the service on a line that's still required for diversionary purposes, for empty trains to the depot, for freight - but is still technically open for passengers. And the service is provided at a useless time of day when the train companies have a spare train and crew available to run it. In our own area, the loop that avoids Bristol (known as the "Rhubarb Loop") has a single passenger train, in one direction only, at around lunch time. And there's a train from Ruislip that arrives into Paddington at 11:32 on Monday to Friday mornings and leaves again at 11:36. And it's the only regular passenger train using that line. There are parliamentary stations too - our example is Pilning, with one train a week in each direction.

I've travelled on the Rhubarb loop train. I was the only passenger, and the train crew checked that I really did NOT want to travel to Bristol Temple Meads. And reading reports of the train from Paddington, you'll see comments like "there was just me and another enthusiast on the train; we were outnumbered by staff".

It's been suggested to me that the trains that serve Melksham are a parliamentary service. No - they are not parliamentary. They are just paltry. This morning, I've travelled on the 06:38 train for the second day this week, and on both days there were five passengers joining the train even at that hour, and another seven or eight on the train from stations up the line such as Chippenham. And in the evening, I arrived back in Melksham on the evening train last night... around 20 people got on at Chippenham to make the journey joining perhaps a dozen travelling through from Swindon, 6 got off and 2 on at Melksham, leaving 28 passengers carrying on to Trowbridge. This is not the modern parliamentary train; this is simply a dreadful service.

So... if the service was not dreadful, would it be used better? All the evidence points to it. Chat to the faces that you see frequently on the train, and thay all say they would use it more if it was a bit later (morning) and / or earlier (evening). Significantly, they say that they can't use the trains on days that they may get delayed because there's no evening service. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of potential use. For everyONE who's at the station at half past six in the morning, and happy (or at least accepting) they won't be back until after seven in the evening, there are dozens more who would us it at a more sociable time, and there are further dozens who would use it if it were a true service with trains through the day - something available within an hour or so (earlier or later) of when you wanted to travel.

A Parliamentary service has no real passenger use. Our TransWilts service does have passenger use - shown by the 32 on the evening train on a typical weekday. And those numbers - though low - provide evidence for (and make it a prime candidate for) improvement.
(written 2013-04-30, updated 2013-05-04)

 
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